Buttes New British Cemetery, the New Zealand Memorial, and the 5th Australian Division Memorial, seen from within Polygon Wood.
This view looks south west down the length of the wood, at the far end of which is Black Watch Corner, where a memorial remembers the men of the Black Watch, and where we shall pay a brief visit next post. Once the wood had been captured and the front lines had moved eastwards, trench maps show that this avenue through the woods became one of a number of duckboard tracks that lead through the morass towards the trenches.
Rides criss-cross the wood, and somewhere there’s a German bunker known as Scott Post, named after Lieutenant Colonel Alan Humphrey Scott D.S.O., commander of 56th Australian Infantry Battalion. Scott had joined the A.I.F. in late August 1914 as a lieutenant, embarking for Egypt in October with the 4th Infantry Battalion, by which time he was already a captain. He fought on Gallipoli, landing at Anzac Cove in the early hours of 25th April 1915, the farthest point inland that his men reached that day being named Scott’s Point after him. Proving himself a brave and highly capable officer, Scott won a D.S.O. over two days in August at Lone Pine, holding a crucial and exposed position until all the wounded had been evacuated, and, having been forced to retire after a Turkish bombing attack, leading a bayonet attack in the face of fierce machine gun fire to recapture the position. During the Gallipoli evacuation he was one of the last men of his battalion to leave the trenches. In 1916 in Egypt Scott was one of sixteen men promoted to lieutenant colonel, and was given 56th battalion, a mix of seasoned soldiers and new recruits, mainly men from New South Wales, to train from scratch. Following training, the battalion embarked for France where, in July, they participated in the ill-fated attack at Fromelles. By October they were on the Somme at Flers, and in the spring of 1917, during the Bullecourt battles, Scott once more proved his worth with a text-book night attack on the village of Louverval. By September 1917 the battalion were in Flanders, preparing for their part in the Third Battle of Ypres.
This information board proved very useful, as even from here it’s tricky to spot the bunker through the trees. Virtually impossible in the summer, I would think.
The attack on Polygon Wood on 26th September 1917 would be carried out by 14th & 15th Brigades of the 5th Australian Division, 53rd Battalion being tasked with taking the first objective, the Red Line, which included the whole of the wood, including the Butte, before 55th & 56th Battalions would pass through to take the second objective, the Blue Line, which included taking 1000 yards of the Flanders 1 Line, the German front line trenches in the fields beyond the wood.
‘Scott Post’. Trench maps marked the bunker as Scott Post (as opposed to Scott’s Post). but Scott himself is unlikely to have been personally involved in the clearing of the bunker, his men naming it in his honour.
At 5.50 a.m. the artillery barrage began, the Australians leaving their trenches to follow the creeping barrage towards the enemy lines, overrunning the stunned German defenders*, although intense firefights broke out where bunkers were encountered. Here the Australians gave no quarter unless the defenders swiftly surrendered, and possibly not even then. The wood, and the Butte, as we saw last post, were taken and by 7.30 a.m. the second phase of the operation could begin, 55th & 56th Battalions pushing on past the wood, clearing the bunkers and capturing the German trenches beyond the wood’s edge.
*the men of the German 3rd Reserve Division, who, along with 220th & 50th Divisions, were among the defenders of the wood, had only arrived in Belgium a few weeks previously from the Eastern Front, and this was their first taste of Flanders fighting. Many of those captured were rather quaintly mentioned as appearing ‘rather rattled.’
Anyway, there it is.
Their objectives met, the Australians spent the rest of 26th September consolidating their new positions; the inevitable German counterattacks were repulsed by artillery fire and machine guns swiftly set up on top of the Butte. During the day of the attack 14th Brigade captured 439 Germans and no less than 34 machine guns (many, you would think, at the Butte), and suffered some 1,100 casualties; 56th Battalion’s share of these was 255.
This bunker was the largest of the German bunkers in the wood,…
…which probably explains why it still stands. It has a single entrance…
…on its northern side…
…from which two rooms are visible inside (above & below).
And as the entrance is on the northern side of the bunker,…
…and as there are no openings at all on the southern side (right), the side facing the attacking Australians in September 1917, it would seem that this bunker’s use was to protect troops from enemy shelling, as they would have had to leave it in order to fight, or be trapped inside at the mercy of the Australian bombers.
Memorial plaque to a different Scott. Lieutenant Lee Scott was Humphrey Scott’s younger brother, and won his Military Cross on 26th September 1917 for leading a party to secure the battalion’s right flank, which at one point had become dangerously exposed.
The bunker is in remarkably good condition, really,…
…particularly if you bear in mind post war attempts by local farmers to blow it up (other sources suggest that it may have been used post-war to store unexploded ammunition which was then detonated inside the bunker).
As we head back towards Buttes New British Cemetery…
…I should mention that there are other bunkers, both German and New Zealand (from early 1918), the remains of which can still be found within the wood, but quite honestly you need to know where they are in advance to find them. Another time. Instead you get a picture of an iced-up culvert – man, it was cold out there that day!
Following the capture of the wood, the next few days were spent making preparations for the next phase of Haig’s grand plan, the attack on the Broodseinde Ridge, but for 56th Battalion, just as they were about to be relieved, tragedy struck. On 1st October, whilst showing the C.O. of the relieving British battalion round the recently captured positions at the Butte, both men were shot dead by a single bullet from a German sniper, whose position, ironically, was known, but had not been passed on to Scott. He is now buried within the cemetery in Plot II, not far from the bunker that bears his name to this day, and even closer to where he was killed.
He was just 27.
One more Polygon Wood post to come.